What to know before agreeing to WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

Story by CBC Kids News • 2021-05-20 08:29

Critics say new app agreement goes too far

WhatsApp users, pay attention. A controversial update to the free messaging app kicked in on May 15.

The changes allow WhatsApp to share more of your private information with Facebook, which owns the app.

Sounds kinda harmless, right? And WhatsApp has been very clear about this: Your private chats will remain private.

But critics, including privacy advocates in countries like Germany, Turkey, India and South Africa, say the policy goes too far.

No matter where you stand on the issue, the WhatsApp story is a good reminder that when you click “I agree” on a privacy policy, you’re potentially giving something valuable away for free.

What are you giving away? Watch this video to find out:

Why are people worried?

The updated policy will allow WhatsApp to share your personal data, including location information and phone numbers, with Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Instagram, even if you don’t have accounts on those platforms.

Users shouldn’t have to give away that much personal information to use the app, critics say. It’s not what they signed up for.

“Given Facebook's status as one of the world's largest companies,” said South Africa’s Information Regulator on May 13, steps need to be taken to “hold Facebook accountable.”

There’s no way for WhatsApp users to say no to the new privacy policy.

Facebook and WhatsApp icons side by side on a phone screen.

The new policy was supposed to become mandatory for all WhatsApp users on Feb. 8, but the deadline was delayed until May 15 following a backlash. (Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

WhatsApp responds

WhatsApp says the point of the change is to make it easier for people to communicate with businesses — and even shop — on the app.

It says it’s necessary to gather a bit of personal information to make that possible.

“We believe people are looking for apps to be both reliable and safe,” said the company in a blog post on Feb. 18, “even if that requires WhatsApp having some limited data.”

WhatsApp said its goal going forward will be to develop new ways to meet its responsibilities “with less information, not more.”

Despite the latest update, conversations on the app are still encrypted, WhatsApp confirmed, which means nobody at WhatsApp or Facebook can read them.

Tweet from WhatsApp says We want to address some rumours and be 100% clear we continue to protect your private messages with end to end encryption.

What does this mean for users?

In the past few days, users may have noticed notifications every time they log onto the app, prompting them to accept the update.

If you don’t accept them, those reminders will become “persistent,” said What’sApp. That means it’ll be kind of non-stop.

At that point, users will start losing access to more and more features until they accept the updated privacy policy.

At first, that might only mean losing access to your chat list. Eventually, you’ll stop getting messages or calls entirely.

Some people are choosing not to accept the update and are exploring similar apps instead, including Signal or Telegram.

Wondering what’s at stake when you click “I agree” on a privacy policy? Watch Saara’s video to learn more:


With files from Reuters, The Associated Press
TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

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